The Coffin and Libya’s War in Chad

The Imtidad Blog has a translation of an excerpt from التابوت (The Coffin) Abdallah al-Ghazal’s 2003 novel on the Libya-Chad ‘Toyota War’. The conflict over the Azou Strip on the southern border between Libya and Chad was a major point in Libya foreign policy in the 1970s and 1980s, with several clashes and interventions from the Libyan side into Chad from 1978 through till 1987. The conflict was eventually settled at high costs for the Libyans especially who lost thousands and thousands of men and lots of materiel (although there are impressive descriptions of the Libyans troops and weapons from north to south over more than a thousand kilometres by air and ground the Libyans were melted in combat and suffered from trouble with their Chadian clients and their politics). The technical component in the war has aroused some interested, as the term ‘Toyota War’ suggests, though the role of air power has been another focus. The history is nowadays neglected, especially since Libya became closely tied to Chad’s leadership after the conflict ended. Academic books have been written on the subject and it features prominently in some works on African geopolitics or Libyan foreign policy in Africa; there do not seem to be many accounts of the fighting on the Libyan side that are easily accessible in general. It is not obscure to Africa or Libya watchers but does not always stand out in the way other African conflicts do.*

In any case, al-Ghazal’s novel is quite worth reading: this reader came across the Arabic version a couple of years ago and finished it in June or July of this year and not being a literary person he is not in a good place to judge its artistic quality. التابوت The Coffin holds attention and gives a sense of what an individual’s experience was like in one of these miserable and needless conflicts you read about in political and security literature or see caricatured in bad cinema (there is actually an awful Pauly Shore comedy (‘In the Army Now’) about a couple of dimwitted American reservists caught in the midsts of a Libyan invasion of Chad). It was worth going through in Arabic. The translated excerpt at Imtidad is decent but if the reader has a sense for Arabic the renderings that may come off as awkward or robotic do make sense and most of it does capture the style and feel of al-Ghazal’s narrative (that is not meant as criticism, given the blocky translations that go up on this site). Hopefully there will be more translations of the book at Imtidad as has been promised.

 

* In passing, a few resources on the conflict specifically include: Wright’s Libya, Chad and the Central Sahara (1989); Neuberger, Involvement, Invasion, and Withdrawal: Qadhdhafī’s Libya and Chad, 1969-1981 (1982); Burr and O’Collins, Africa’s Thirty Year’s War: Libya, Chad, and the Sudan, 1963-1993 (1999); Azevedo’s Roots of Conflict: A History of War in Chad (1998); Nolutshungu’s Limits of Anarchy: Intervention and State Formation in Chad (1995); Brandily, “Le Tchad face nord 1978-1979″, in Politique Africaine (1984); De Lespinois, “L’emploi de la force aérienne au Tchad (1967–1987)” in Penser les Ailes françaises (June, 2005); there are also informative discussions of the conflict’s internal dynamics in Vandewalle’s A Modern History of Libya (2006) and Libya since Independence: Oil and State-building (1998).

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